Just today, at lunch with my sweet grandmother, she asked for a to-go container for a portion of her unfinished meal. Unfortunately, she did not receive an eco-friendly container. Instead she got what is many times a standard container. Styrofoam packaging or polystyrene is a petroleum-based plastic made from the styrene monomer. It is bought in bulk at a cheap rate by many restaurants and is used for its insulating properties.
Top 5 Reasons to Avoid Polystyrene
Not Easily Recyclable
Even though technology for recycling polystyrene exists, the market for recycling is very small and shrinking. This means each time you take out a container it will probably end up in landfill instead of being recycled. But recycling is not “closed loop” (see point 2).
If collected and recycled, polystyrene containers and cups are not re-manufactured into the same product, but into other products such as packing filler. This means that more resources will have to be used, and more pollution created, to produce more polystyrene containers.
Harm to Workers and Consumers
In a world where ‘everything will give you cancer’ it still seems reasonable to me to mitigate those risks as best as possible. Exposure from personal use is probably not enough to cause any true health concerns, but what about the factory workers creating the PS? Linda Birnbaum, is a toxicologist who heads the government agency which has declared styrene, an ingredient in fiberglass boats and Styrofoam, a likely cancer risk. ” “Let me put your mind at ease right away about Styrofoam,” she said in a Huffington Post article. Levels of styrene that leach from food containers “are hundreds if not thousands of times lower than have occurred in the occupational setting,” where the chemical in vapor form poses a possible risk to workers.
Toxins in Our Air, Land and Water from Styrene Production
A few years ago, the U.S. National Toxicology program declared that styrene was “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” Styrene can be found in air, soil, and water after release from the manufacture, use, and disposal of styrene-based products, says the CDC. Low levels of styrene occur naturally in a variety of foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, beverages, and meats. Small amounts of styrene can be transferred to food from styrene-based packaging material.
When it comes to food-safe polystyrene alternatives several good options exist.
Green Star Restaurants
Many eco-friendly restaurants will opt for greener options. Post-consumer recycled paper, bamboo, corn plastics, etc. are easily renewable resources. These may be more expensive, but it is worth it for long term eco and health benefits.
Bring Your Own
Eco-clamshells are great, too and can be used over and over again. I bought mine, made of number 5 plastic, or polypropylene. This means it will be able to be recycled if I ever need to. Although some cities have banned polystyrene, it may be nearly impossible to avoid altogether. As styrene is used in many everyday items such as building products, insulation, fiberglass, auto parts and carpet backing. Still, when it comes to consumption, we have a choice to eat and drink the purest and highest quality items as possible. So, the next time I am out to lunch with my grandmother, I will remember to bring my container and will do my part, albeit in a small way against polystyrene.
Check out another blogger’s post on recycling Styrofoam.